The Special Olympics World Games takes place every two years and alternates between summer and winter. Qualifying for the Special Olympics takes determination and hard work. Before you are eligible, you must win a gold medal at a state completion and your name is entered into a pool of qualified individuals. Your coaches and supporters must write recommendations for you stating your capabilities for the trip and competition.
The World Games are HUGE as you could imagine. In 2011, I was lucky to be selected as one of the nine to represent the U.S. out of 50,000 athletes. When I was informed of the news, I screamed and cheered so loud. “This is such an accomplishment and honor,” I thought to myself.
The host for the 2011 Summer Special Olympic World Games was Athens, Greece. A week before departing, I trained with Team USA in San Diego and my Bocce team and coaches. This was also a time where our coaches evaluated us to ensure we were capable of handling the long trip. Unfortunately, for some athletes they were unable to go forward for medical reasons.
We flew to Athens on a Department of Defense plane – it was pretty cool. They had a map that showed our location and I would have to say, we were fed pretty well. The first week, we stayed on the island of Rhodes to acclimate to the weather and the culture. We then traveled to Athens by ferry that took 14 hours.
I had the opportunity to play against athletes from Bangladesh, Switzerland and all over the world. My team was able to bring back the silver and bronze medal for Team USA. The opening and closing ceremonies in Athens were four to five hours long with Greek mythology, entertainment from, Vanessa Williams, Stevie Wonder and other well-known artists from different countries. It was amazing! I had the opportunity to meet such interesting people.
When I was competing, everything I was doing was sent to Syracuse by video. I am a local in Central New York so our local TV station was showing updates on me and how I was doing throughout the competition. The local news invited me on TV to talk about the Special Olympic World Games and how my team did. I was over the moon to represent Team USA, my community and place in such a high-scale competition. It was an experience of a lifetime!